Teacher for the day

Following my ' Do something blog' on street photography I was contacted to see if I could help a young student with her street photography module in her photography GCSE. Putting aside my jealously that you can not only now study photography for GCSE, but you can also choose a  street photography project, I said I would be delighted to help.

The first thing we needed to decide was a theme for the images to follow. As Birmingham has a history of industrial and social change, we agreed the theme of old and new would be broad enough to encompass the diverse aspects of Birmingham street life. Next on our agenda was to brush up on the technical know how of operating the camera and gaining control away from  the auto mode. Whilst cameras are getting ever smarter to deliver the best it can automatically, if you take an amazing image but are unable to understand how it was done, you're unable to replicate it whenever you want. Rather than making the camera fully manual, the aperture priority mode was selected so that all you had to decide was how much of your shot was in focus. For example, if you wanted to take a landscape image and wished for all of the image to be in focus it would be  a high f number between 11- 22. Or, if you wanted a portrait to pop out from a blurred background, that's a low number generally between 1.4 and 4.0.

Not only teacher, but but I was also a model for the morning. Image copyright Katya Hall

Our first location was in the heart of the chocolate Mecca of the midlands - Bournville. Nestled between Victorian terraced houses the Bournville Cafe is an old fashioned greasy spoon somehow shielded from the omnipresent Starbucks and Costa coffee shops. With its varnished pine walls, chips with everything menu and mugs of tea for 60p, it was an ideal place to get the creative juices flowing.

 To contrast this vision of yesteryear we headed off to Birmingham's wonderful arts complex, The Custard Factory. The once site of the nation's Birds Custard production has for over 20 years been reimagined as a diverse arts and retail complex. 

The hustle of the collectors market made for lots of wonderful people watching. Image copyright Katya Hall

 Image copyright Katya Hall.

It was also a great chance to experiment with street portraiture, talking to the locals and seeing what opportunities existed for a shot out of the ordinary. We got that chance after the charming owners of the skating shop opened the indoor ramp located within the railway arch. As the skaters did there stuff, Katya and I got a chance to experiment with low light and action photography, and in keeping with our theme, demonstrate how skater culture had made something new out of an old Victorian railway arch.

The surreal combination of mask and man in low light creates a wonderful combination in this image. Image copyright Katya Hall.

An off centre portrait allowed the image to show the colour of the complex and the matching attire of our subject.Image copyright Katya Hall

Whilst the weather was still holding up we decided to finish the day with an exploration of the new in the form of the rebuilt Bullring shopping centre. Taking photographs in shopping centres is something that has to be done carefully as it is not always clear as to what is public and private property. Without prior formal permission taking photos inside the shopping centre is not permitted, so to be on the safe side we kept to the public walkway that runs between the two halves of the site. Fortunately, this allowed us a great way of experimenting with the flow of the crowd against the modern retail architecture.

The reflections from the rain and the movement of the shoppers add to the atmosphere in this scene. Image copyright Katya Hall.

The reflections from the rain and the movement of the shoppers add to the atmosphere in this scene. Image copyright Katya Hall.

Katya's confidence with her camera and street photography techniques blossomed throughout the day, and as I'm sure you'll agree, she has taken some outstanding images for her Photography GCSE. You don't need to be studying for a GCSE  if you fancy either getting to grips with your camera or to take your first steps in street photography. Why not drop me a line at or via Facebook to see what what we can do? I’ll even throw in a mug of tea... 

Thanks to Yumm Cafe and Ideal Skate Supply for their help in making it such a successful day.

Till next time.

Matt Peers